‘Ere 221B Dragons and Those Who May Spoil Them…mmmkay?
When I write something there is me writing it #ObviousStatementisObvious. Yet if there is any art to writing, it is about removing the (obvious) evidence of me. But there is another art, or perhaps a balance, to leaving such evidence in the writing. Sometimes it’s to satisfy reader/viewer expectation, and beyond that there are all sorts of motivations for doing so, some are apparent to the writer and others would be sub or supra-conscious.
Sometimes it’s more like a conversation between writer and reader/viewer. The ‘I know you’re looking’ moments, or the ‘I have to let you know that I know you know’ something something here moments. Like when Fury explains the purpose of Coulson’s death in The Avengers. It was like the film writer was saying look everyone, writing with no hands, here is the Call To Action for the Heroes, just like the writing book says. Or when Sherlock makes observations about ‘geeks being worth it if you put the work in because they are so grateful’ (I may have paraphrased slightly here). That’s not just Sherlock observing, but the authors being cruel about a particular group but also one may posit, about themselves. I think that’s the way of writing. The meanest things are the truth, because the really, really vilest you can be is about yourself. And nobody, not even Sherlock, knows you like yourself. Go Pysch 1o1 on that if you like.
Themes – Camera Obscura
My writing tends towards what interests me and what captures my attention. In other words what goes into this brain and maybe stays there for a bit, may at some point come out in the writing. This doesn’t make me special because every writer, artist, creative type person is like that.
Writing is also infected by the world we live in, or observe on the news, or…read in the papers. The Sherlock series has used the media, or portrayed the media, but latest series it is about media: media reach and ownership, anonymity, secrets and how they are protected and used, how the media influences government and vice versa. If you live in the UK or are interested in the media at all you’d need to work pretty hard to avoid such topics. And they’re still with us.
The obvious clue is the newspaper owning foreigner portrayed as an evil genius, Charles Augustus Magnussen, the CAM who sent a lovely, but in retrospect terrifying, telegram to Mary at the wedding. It’s not overly meta to draw conclusions about who in the media (familiar to anyone in the UK, US or Australia) Magnussen is operating most like.
Magnussen: Proof? I don’t need proof. I’m in news you moron. I just have to print it.
But that’s too easy for these writers, because it’s not just a commentary on the evils of unregulated media, or the NSA. Why? Because the Evil Genius Media Baron is the mirror of Sherlock, what with mind palaces and using people. If Sherlock was really a psychopath Magnussen is what he would become if he cared about money, power and making people pay. Yet Sherlock is a detective, rather than a pirate Mycroft mentioned. (Side note interesting relationship between the media and the word piracy nowadays huh).
Sherlock remains a blunt instrument, and again, one of sacrifice, as he sees the one way out for Mary and Watson. This time to keep his friends safe he doesn’t die, or pretend to die, but his Evil Genius Twin needs to. It means if Sherlock ever really turns BAD he too will need to be put down because Magnussen is Sherlock’s Shadow, even more than Moriarty. Moriarty is something like the representation of Sherlock’s fear of the results of boredom + drugs. Through suffering (via Mary) and by the destruction of his Shadow, Sherlock’s issues, at least some of them, like Red Beard, are addressed. We learn about how he became how he is.
All this shadowing and mirroring is reflected (geddit) in the direction. The camera is worth paying attention to, with all the shots through glass, or framed through windows or doors (even as characters are being framed in the plot). There are different angles, close-ups, the use of computers as cameras, or surveillance view angles, ultra clear views or drunken and fuzzy views that heighten the notion of always being observed and of the lack of privacy. Again this is the CAM(era) or rather Magnussen in action. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised about Magnussen’s vault. It is made of light, but is morally ‘dark’. (If white = good and black = bad). His vault is the camera obscura from where everything in his papers is projected and protected.
The direction too has me thinking Sherlock as Hamlet – a flawed hero ready to die or kill for a cause while saving his best friend and always demanding to see proof. But especially thematically and especially the David Tenant version with all the security cameras. In these episodes and that version of the play, Hamlet, like Sherlock, is ‘th’ observed of all observers, quite, quite down’. Yes, quite down due to the machinations of the state and a corrupt media.
So I can see the not only what the writers want me to see of their reflexivity, but also the craft in it. I can see how the end of series three mirrors the end of series two. Where there was Sherlock’s physical fall after Moriarty shoots himself in the head, here is his ‘moral’ fall after, well after what happens with someone else shot in the head, which again results in a kind of exile from his friends…second verse just like the first.
Indeed the third series ends in the same way as the first series, with Sherlock in the red spot lights of guns, next to Watson, while everything is about to go Moriarty. It also mirrors the end of the first episode – with a shooting to save someone – only with the Sherlock and Watson’s roles reversed and the ‘debt’ paid. This is what makes it beautiful writing, and not at all like life. This is escapism for the attentive viewer or detective fiction as High Art.
People who dismiss such writing have different expectations of TV. They may want (I’m guessing) the kind of TV that just presents stuff happening. ‘Reality’ TV that caters to no expectations. It is entertainment for people who concentrate all day and just need to not in the evening. It is a drug of the masses, and for most of us most of the time it works. I don’t mind some of it myself. I’m not immune to the emotional dramas and plot twists of a good home renovation program. No, what are you thinking putting the glass side table with that rug, can’t you see it doesn’t work next to the dormer window?
It pays to pay attention
However, the TV I most appreciate is the kind where it draws me in, rather than anaesthetises. It’s TV made to be concentrated on, that dares the viewer to want to think like a Sherlock, or emote like one hell of a Martin Freeman as Watson (just phenomenal – Freeman should win awards). It’s a puzzle to solve and the reflexivity invites viewers to second guess not only the characters, but also the writers, who know this is what happens. The game, indeed, is on. Or afoot.
Bit blunt. But the real point is that these programs and their ilk are meant for a different kind of viewer. It’s not about smart/dumb but attentive/non-attentive.
Case in point. Much of the focus is (rightly) on Sherlock. Yet I like how Watson notices things. Sherlock notices things and it drives the plot and solves the crime. Watson notices things and it’s about feelings. As soon as he sees his chair back in his spot he knows, and this knowledge is confirmed with the perfume. He notices the things that breaks people’s hearts, like he knew Sherlock was breaking Molly’s heart as he deduced her Christmas gift. Sherlock, with no automatic sensitivity, can’t see the human cost of where the deductions lead him, not until it is too late. Too late for Molly, too late for Moriarty and The Woman, and too late for Media Mogul as Super-villian. Our pay off is that we can see the pain Sherlock causes, while watching Watson feel the pain first.
Mycroft seems to be a more naturally without empathy. Sherlock’s psychology, if you will, seems more a creation of Mycroft’s bullying, artistic sensibility, and sensitivity as a result of exposure to trauma (Red Beard) bound together. All this plus a curious nature and competitiveness. Mycroft is less curious, perhaps more intelligent and colder, while Sherlock is a bastard, and sometimes deliberately so, but also heroic in his sacrifices. His ability is not just to see what average people filter out, but to read people. Of course Sherlock can read his brother like he reads Watson, but he is also seeing himself in Mycroft. Mycroft is an alter of Sherlock, he can read the details, but feels no drive to.
Sherlock, may not feel (so he says) yet his psychological analysis of Watson is honest and devastating, and also sincere and to the point…that point being getting Watson through the pain of finding out about his wife and then to solve the dilemma. All this as even Sherlock is bleeding internally while using his knowledge of Watson to manipulate him.
As much as Watson is attracted to Sherlock and Mary types, Sherlock is aware of Watson’s utilitarian purpose as well as his other traits. This knowledge changes Sherlock. Sherlock, while remaining the kind of person who can kill without remorse, becomes more aware of his limitations and frailties and more able to be a friend and deliver a best man’s speech. On the other side of this friendship Watson gets the kind of adrenalin rush lifestyle he craves and a best friend and eventually a wife who is herself a mirror to Sherlock. So many mirrors.
Sherlock enjoying being a total and utter Sherlock. His idea of fun is torture. Hey ho. I did say he develops didn’t I?
Something About Mary
We knew didn’t we, that something was up with Watson’s fiancée and knowing the types of things that happen to characters in this world, feared for her life? Yet we underestimated the writers. They created Mary to match Sherlock, and perhaps improve upon him. And improve him. And she does. She is pretty much action hero awesome, despicably deceptive and vulnerable all at the same time. As Sherlock points out, she is perfect for John because she like Sherlock, possesses the traits he prefers. And that is also the writers talking to the viewers. Mary Watson, if I may be so bold, is the female actiony-spy-doctor’s assistant/maternal figure we’ve been waiting for. Probably ever since The Long Kiss Goodnight. The point now is to make more use of her traits in the future…please let there be a future.
Rules of Foreshadowment
When filling a story with minor characters writers need to have a point, and make these characters have a point. Otherwise it’s Occam’s Razor for ‘em. Therefore the attentive viewer/reader needs to listen to what minor characters say. Mostly because those random insults and one liner quips usually become the truth. This is called foreshadowing. I submit to you this:
And wait until you realise what you are seeing in the last episode of series three!
Anderson, Lestrade and Donovan are crucial as they can stand outside the central relationships and while being the observers (like an audience) but also heralds of the action. Yet they can also add depth, stir up conflict and make things happen. It is no accident that Anderson especially becomes like he does and it is no accident either that Sherlock explains to Anderson (rather than Watson) what happened to him. Anderson (and his new gang) are us. Fans devising explanations, fans imagining all sorts of crazy stuff while sitting around in Deer Stalker hats and speculating about the return, just like they did about 100 years ago:
Anderson and the Sherlock fans work out how he did it. Or not.
What else, these characters are also foils to demonstrate Sherlock’s cleverness, while his enemies and friend/s are there to show how wrong he can be. Moriarty and now Magnussen look like they beat Sherlock, until Sherlock wins, or almost wins (?). Yet the price for winning, for solving the crime puzzle, is high.
So there you go. There is a heap more to say and think about but this has suddenly become a long read. And I haven’t even mentioned the comedy! And his parents! Anyway thanks for reading and maybe rethinking Sherlock.